Almost 62,000 men made the ultimate sacrifice in the war to end all wars. Included in that awful casualty list were 11 young men who had represented Carlton in at least one senior game at League level, but would never again hear the roar of the crowd.
Almost all of them lie in foreign soil where they fell – many with no known grave.
But one who did return was the mortally wounded David Gillespie.
To mark Remembrance Day, this is his story:
David Francis Gillespie led his twin brother Doug into the world on December 13, 1887. The boys were born not far from the old Carlton ground, on the site of the Royal Melbourne Zoo, where their father worked as a zookeeper and their mother in the kiosk. Both David and Doug would later play for Carlton – a feat emulated only by the Hanton twins Hal and Alex, who turned out for the Blues in the mid-1940s.
Over the next 11 years Doug and Dave’s parents, Glaswegians James Gillespie and Mary Gallagher, would raise another three sons and three daughters as the clan settled in the Carlton district. Doug and Dave each pursued their respective careers – Doug as a gardener, Dave as a constable of police – and Dave would follow Doug from the Gillespie home in Gatehouse Street to the Carlton ground on Royal Parade
David would represent Carlton in five senior matches through 1907 and ’08. Doug would turn out in 90, amongst them the Grand Final conquests of 1907 and ’08.
When James died in 1913, Mary was left to fend for her eight children. A year later, following the outbreak of World War I, she was then placed in the harrowing position of having to farewell each of her five sons, for all of them answered the call. Sergeant Doug Gillespie, a gardener by profession, was 26 years old when he enlisted in December 1914. Promoted to sergeant in Egypt in March 1916, he was later struck down with illness and transferred to France in June 1917, before securing leave to Australia in December the following year.
All five Gillespie brothers – Doug, Gordon, Robert, William and David – were struck down with serious illness or wounded. David fatally.
As with his twin brother Doug, David Francis Gillespie, was an early volunteer for front line military service. Upon joining the 59th battalion, Dave soon found himself a part of the ill-fated Gallipoli campaign.
Having somehow survived the campaign, the now-promoted Sergeant followed his battalion into the unspeakable horror that was trench warfare on France’s Western Front. It was March 1916, and by the following May, Dave’s outstanding leadership qualities were again acknowledged, with a further promotion to the rank of Company Sergeant-Major.
But his all-too-short existence was nearing its tragic end.
On July 19, 1916, Dave was leading his men in an assault on German positions near Armentieres when an artillery shell exploded close behind him. Shrapnel tore into his lower back and one arm, inflicting grievous injuries.
Dave Gillespie's grave at Coburg cemetery. (Photo: Carlton Football Club)
Miraculously still alive, Dave was evacuated to a hospital behind the lines and quickly repatriated to England. A series of operations followed, but it was obvious that his spinal cord had been shattered, and his stomach and intestines were irreparably damaged.
Returning to Melbourne aboard the hospital ship Wiltshire on the eve of the New Year – December 31, 1916 – the mortally wounded soldier was slowly stretchered down the gangway. From there he was taken to Caulfield Military Hospital where, despite the best efforts of the medical staff, he succumbed to peritonitis.
Dave Gillespie died in the Australian General hospital in Caulfield, on March 27, 1917. The Carlton Football Club was well-represented when Dave was laid to rest with full military honours at Coburg cemetery, and the players wore black armbands in tribute at their next match.
A little under seven years later, Dave’s grieving mother Mary was laid to rest in the same grave.
A touching memorial to Dave Gillespie (and other soldiers of the district lost in wartime) stands on tranquil ground on Royal Parade, not far from the Carlton Recreation Reserve where he and twin brother Doug once played. An inscription at the base of that memorial says simply: WE DIED FOR COUNTRY, LIVE YE FOR IT
The Carlton Football Club remembers its 'Great Fallen' - those brave young men who were taken from the Club in the prime of their fledgling lives.